HC Deb 15 November 1888 vol 330 cc1250-8
THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

A few days ago I gave an undertaking that I should to-day make a statement to the House in regard to the legislative proposals which Her Majesty's Government think it right to place before the House in the course of the present Session. In making these observations, I must first of all express my regret—my unfeigned regret—that the period of the Session at which we have arrived, and the very slow progress of Public Business during the last few days, has deprived us of the opportunity of passing several measures which we believe to be essential to the public interest, but for which there now remains no time for their due and proper consideration by this House in the course of the present Session. I refer especially to the Tithe Bills, which deal with questions not affecting the Established Church alone, but the good order and the peace of the community in a very important part of the United Kingdom. It appears to us, Sir, that sufficient time will not be afforded to the House for the consideration of these measures, which we think are of such importance as to require deliberate consideration at the hands of hon. Members. There are also other measures relating to Ireland—the Drainage Bills, for in- stance—which are met with a persistent opposition by hon. Members opposite. I do not in the slightest degree wish to call in question their right to oppose these measures; but they are proposed by Her Majesty's Government under a sense of their responsibility for the prosperity, advancement, and well-being of Ireland. We had reason to hope that they would have been received by this House generally with a desire to give effect to them, and that as rapidly as due consideration would permit. There is also another Bill which we regret we shall have to abandon in the course of the present Session. I refer to the Bill for the constitution of a Board of Agriculture. After communication with hon. Friends on both sides of the House who are interested in this matter, we have arrived at the conclusion that the time at our disposal would not enable us to deal with this question this Session. I have now referred to the morn important measures; but there are also others of less importance, which need not be particularized, which might have been considered, but which must now be abandoned. And now I will come to the question which we must invite the House to consider and dispose of before the Prorogation can take place. In the first instance, as I indicated in the course of the sitting before the Adjournment, we shall have to ask the House to provide an additional sum of £5,000,000 for the further extension of land purchase in Ireland. [Loud Ministerial cheers and Opposition cries of "Oh!"] I have stated in these words almost the entire contents of the Bill, for it will consist of only one clause. I admit, however, the importance of the subject, and the full right of this House to debate fully the question involved in the Bill. [Mr. J. E. ELLIS: Without the closure?] I trust the House will be able to dispose of it in the course of next week. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. A. J. Balfour) will, on Monday next, ask leave to introduce the Bill, and we propose to proceed de die in diem with it until it is disposed of. The only other Bill of any importance which is not introduced, and which we propose to ask the House to pass this Session, is a measure which deals with the allocation of the Probate Duty to Scotland and Ireland, and that, I apprehend, is not a measure which will receive much opposition. As to the Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Excise Duties (Local Purposes) we shall take the second reading immediately after the conclusion of the proceedings on the Land Purchase Bill. Following the second reading of the Excise Duties (Local Purposes) Bill, we shall ask the House to consider the Employers' Liability Bill, and as it is said that it is one which ought to go up for further consideration in the House of Lords, I hope that there may be no undue delay in getting it through this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) has made a suggestion which the Government have received with great satisfaction—that the Scotch Universities Bill may be taken pari passu with the Appropriation Bill, after Supply has been disposed of. The course which the Government propose to take is to adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. We are under an engagement to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. J. C. Stevenson) that he shall have an opportunity of raising the question of the Intoxicating Liquor (Sunday) Bill. I propose to meet this engagement when we have made sufficient progress with Supply. I propose to take the same course with regard to the Motion of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) with reference to Perpetual Pensions. But we shall not be able to afford time for the consideration of those subjects until we have made further progress with Supply. I can only say with regard to the Tithes Bills that I regret they are postponed until next Session, and to my hon. Friends who have our engagement to deal with this question as rapidly as possible, that so far as the Government can see at present they propose to make them the first Business of next Session. Afterwards we desire to take up the Scotch Local Government Bill and other matters relating to Scotland which demand our attention.

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

I have heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman in some respects with regret. I think, however, that it would not be right for me to do more than express that regret without arguing the point. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it necessary to censure the proceedings of the House in regard to the progress made with Supply. So far, at any rate, as the discussion on the expenses of the judicial establishments was concerned, I must say that, in my opinion, the prolongation of that discussion is entirely due to the manner in which the proposals made, in different parts of the House, were met by Her Majesty's Government. To meet the points that were raised in such a manner is a certain and infallible recipe for securing a large expenditure of time quite unnecessarily. I gather from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that all the Business of Supply that now remains, and which includes subjects of the greatest importance—including the Irish Votes—is to be postponed until after certain legislative proceedings which may possibly prove to be protracted, and which introduce to the notice of the House, at this period of the year, matters on which as yet we have had no opportunity of pronouncing an opinion, and which are of a grave character. However, I shall not now discuss any of these matters, but I think it right to give a general intimation to the right hon. Gentleman that when, on Monday next—a very short notice indeed for such a subject—the Chief Secretary moves for leave to introduce the Bill dealing with the subject of land purchase—the terms in which the right hon. Gentleman describes it I will repeat, so that I may be sure that I have correctly understood him—I will make a proposal as an alternative to that contained in the Bill. I understand that the proposal will be a simple addition of a lump sum of £5,000,000 to the £5,000,000 already voted under Lord Ashbourne's Act, and that that will be done upon the same basis in a Bill of a single clause, without any other proposal tending to the relief of the people of Irelend with regard to the Land Question. If that be so, it will be proposed by myself, and on my responsibility, to substitute for that proceeding a different plan—namely, that we shall proceed to deal with the question of arrears which we believe to be excessive, and apply to Ireland the same principle which has been applied with such great advantage in the case of the Scotch crofters. We shall endeavour to consult with the authorities of the House as to the most convenient time for making that pro- posal. If there should be no difficulty in making it at the time when the proposal of the Government is submitted, it would probably be for the convenience of the House that we should proceed to take issue then on the important question of the course to be adopted. But while I say that, on the proposal of Her Majesty s Government being made, I will lose no time in the examination of the question, it is to be distinctly understood that dealing with the arrears will be proposed as an alternative to the measure which it has been stated will be submitted on the part of Her Majesty's Government.

MR. J. C. BOLTON (Stirling)

asked, whether the First Lord of the Treasury would not take the Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill this Session?


said, it would not be possible to proceed with the Bill this year. There were numerous clauses in the Bill, and if anything like protracted opposition was given to it, it would be fatal to the measure. The Government were also under the impression that it would be better to deal with it in connection with the Local Government Bill for Scotland, which they intended to introduce early next Session as a portion of the principal Business of the Session.


Would the right hon. Gentleman be able to inform me, the time being so short between this and Monday, what is the Motion to be then submitted to the House?


I will endeavour to communicate it in the course of the evening to the right hon. Gentleman.

MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)

said, he would make a final appeal to the Government to reconsider their decision as to the Employers' Liability for Injuries to Workmen Bill.


said, he was as anxious as the hon. Gentleman that the Bill should be passed. The arrangement he had stated would, he thought, secure the hon. Gentleman ample opportunity for dealing with the matter.

MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

asked what would be done as to the Patents, Designs, and Trades Marks Bill?


said, that if the Bill was opposed to any serious extent it would not be proceeded with.

MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)

asked the Government if they meant to give effect to the representations of the deputation who waited upon them lately with regard to the third clause of the Employers' Liability for Injuries to Workmen Bill?


said, that the representations of the deputation would have the most serious attention of the Government. They involved considerations of very great importance, and it was not reasonable to expect, in reply to a Question, that he should state what the intentions of the Government were. They would be stated when the House arrived at the Bill.

In reply to Mr. BARTLEY (Islington, N.) and Sir HENRY ROSCOE (Manchester, S.),


said, that if Classes III. and V. were taken to-night, the other Education Votes in Class IV. would be proceeded with to-morrow.


asked, with regard to the Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill, whether, after the announcement the right hon. Gentleman had made, the Bill would be taken off the Order Book, so that Scotch Members might not be obliged to attend the House in the chance of its being taken? He wanted to have it definitely withdrawn. He also wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware, with regard to the Universities (Scotland) Bill, that there was on the part of a considerable number of Scotch Members the most determined opposition to the constitution of that Commission; and that on the part of another section of Scotch Members there was an equally determined opposition to proceed with any Scotch legislation whatever under circumstances which did not permit of it being adequately discussed?


said, he would undertake that the notification of the withdrawal of the Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill should be followed by its excision from the Order Book. As regarded the Universities (Scotland) Bill, the representations which had been made to him by Scotch Members were to the effect that the great majority of Scotch Members were desirous of seeing that Bill pass into law this Session. He should certainly feel it to be his duty to give the House and the Scotch Members an opportunity of considering that Bill. If the hon. Member was correct in his view that the majority of Scotch Members did not desire the Bill to pass, he would have an opportunity of giving expression to that view and seeking the judgment of the House upon it.


Will the right hon. Gentleman abide on that point by the decision of a majority of the Scotch Members?


This is a united Parliament, Sir.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

asked the right hon. Gentleman whether, having regard to the very prolonged programme of legislation which he had put before the House, the enormous number of Estimates still to be considered, and the probable prolongation of the Sittings till February next, he would adhere to the arrangement to keep Scotch Members in town, in order to discuss the Universities (Scotland) Bill along with the Appropriation Bill?


said, he had adopted the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers), who was exceedingly well fitted, from his experience and judgment in Parliamentary Business, to make a suggestion of that kind.

MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)

said, that, in asking the right hon. Gentleman to give them an opportunity of discussing the Universities (Scotland) Bill, he did not at all imply that the Bill as it stood was acceptable to the body of Scotch Members; but there was a strong wish expressed to him that they should have a full discussion on the Bill while the Appropriation Bill was passing through.

MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

asked, whether the right hon. Gentleman was not aware that the proposal now made by the Government was not in accordance with the promise of the ex-Lord Advocate?


I am not aware of it.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has made any estimate in his own mind as to when this Session will come to an end?


No; I have not made any estimate, because it is not possible for me to discover the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c.)

asked, when the Army Estimates would be taken?


I cannot give any other indication than I have already given.

MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

asked, whether the right hon. Gentleman would ascertain the opinion of the Scotch Members as to the advisability of postponing the Universities (Scotland) Bill to the last few days of the Session, the limits of which it was beyond the right hon. Gentleman's own power to estimate?


I was under the impression that I had made an arrangement, which would meet with the views of the majority of the Scotch Members. ["No."] I do not hear the voices of the majority of Scotch Members in that expression. I will undertake to make further inquiry, and state to the House what course will be followed.

MR. W. P. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)

said, that as the right hon. Gentleman had undertaken to make further inquiries, he should like to ask whether he would not yet endeavour to preserve the Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill for consideration. He thought it would be found that the majority of the Scotch Members were more anxious that that Bill should be taken into consideration than the Universities (Scotland) Bill this Session. At the meeting of Scotch Members, to which reference had been made, preference was given to the Burgh Police Bill over the Universities Bill; and certainly the burghs were more anxious that it rather than the Universities Bill should pass into law this Session.

MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)

said, that having regard to the announcement of the First Lord of the Treasury that the measure for Local Government for Scotland would be proceeded with next Session, he thought it would strike a large number of Scotch Members and the Scotch people that it would be utterly unreasonable to proceed now with a measure for regulating the Scotch burghs; and he would therefore urge on the right hon. Gentleman to proceed at once with the Universities Bill.

MR. J. R. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

wished to know what were the intentions of the Government as to the Weights and Measures Bill?


said, he had indicated the principal measures with which Her Majesty's Government thought it necessary to proceed.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

I should like to ask the First Lord of the Treasury when it is the intention of the Government to take up the Irish Estimates; or whether it is the intention of the Government to postpone the passing of the necessary Votes for the Official Departments in Ireland until the Chief Secretary's Landlord Relief Bill is passed?


I cannot undertake to make any arrangement with regard to Public Business beyond that I have already mentioned.